Deeply satisfying finale to the best-selling fantasy trilogy (The Magicians, 2009; The Magician King, 2011).
After being dethroned and exiled from the magical kingdom of Fillory for helping his friend Julia become a demigoddess, Quentin returns to Earth to teach at his alma mater, Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. But when his student Plum stumbles across the school’s resident malevolent demon, which Quentin refuses to kill because it was once his lover Alice, they’re both thrown out and forced to take a risky freelance magic job. This involves stealing a suitcase that once belonged to Plum’s great-grandfather Rupert, one of the five Chatwin siblings whose adventures in Fillory were the subject of best-selling books Plum thinks are fictional—until she opens the suitcase to find Rupert’s memoirs. They fill in some blanks about what really happened to the Chatwins in Fillory and provide clues that will help Quentin’s old comrades Eliot and Janet, still ruling over Fillory, who have been warned by the ram-god Ember that the land is slowly dying. As in the previous novels, Grossman captures the magic of fantasy books cherished in youth and repurposes it to decidedly adult ends. He slyly alludes to the Harry Potter series and owes a clear debt to J.K. Rowling’s great action scenes, though his characters’ magical battles have a bravura all their own. But his deepest engagement remains with C.S. Lewis, as Narnia is the obvious prototype for Fillory; the philosophical conclusion Grossman draws from his land’s narrowly averted apocalypse is the exact opposite of that offered in Lewis’ overbearing Christian allegory. Human emotions and desires balance unearthly powers, especially in the drama of Alice’s painful return. A beautiful scene in Fillory’s Drowned Garden reconnects Quentin with the innocent, dreaming boy he once was yet affirms the value of the chastened grown-up he has become.
The essence of being a magician, as Quentin learns to define it, could easily serve as a thumbnail description of Grossman’s art: “the power to enchant the world.”